Taser use back in firing line

By Greg Ansley

CCTV footage shows an unarmed man being tasered 13 times by police at the East Perth watchhouse. The man had refused to undergo a strip search. Photo / Supplied
CCTV footage shows an unarmed man being tasered 13 times by police at the East Perth watchhouse. The man had refused to undergo a strip search. Photo / Supplied

CANBERRA - Police use of Taser electric shock guns is again under fire in Australia following the death of a man in Sydney and alarm at their rising use in Western Australia after a report by the state's Corruption and Crime Commission.

CCTV footage released by the commission showed a defenceless man being shot 13 times in a Perth watchhouse by a group of officers.

Other WA suspects have been set on fire during the use of the weapons.

In Sydney, the death of a man shot by a Taser during a domestic dispute has renewed concern at failings in police training and guidelines first detailed last year in a report to State Parliament by NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour.

Barbour said after yesterday's death - the fourth by Taser in Australia - that key issues in his report had still not been addressed.

Tasers, which temporarily disable by firing an electric charge into the body, are used across Australia, but are confined to specialist tactical and riot response units by the Federal Police and in South Australia, Tasmania, and Victoria.

They are used by general police as well as special units in NSW, Queensland and the Northern Territory.

The latest death occurred when police were sent to a house in the southwestern Sydney suburb of Sefton and were faced with a man allegedly armed with two knives.

NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said the man was severely affected by alcohol and presented police with a "life-threatening situation".

The man was struck in the chest by the Taser's barb at a distance of about 2m to 3m, fell unconscious and later died at Liverpool Hospital after CPR had been performed on him for about 20 minutes.

Early on Monday, police used a Taser, batons and capsicum spray during a brawl with St George-Illawarra rugby league fans celebrating their team's grand final win.

One of the men sprayed with capsicum and struck by a baton, Steven Bosevski, 35, died. His younger brother Tony, 31, was sprayed and shot in the chest with a Taser during the fight, which is being investigated.

Although police have defended the supposedly non-lethal weapon, last year's NSW Ombudsman's report said there had been a "significant spike" in their use by specialist units in 2007, amid rising international concern at the potential for unjustified and excessive use, inadequate regulation and possible contribution to deaths during arrests.

The report found that while Tasers were a useful option for specialist officers facing dangerous and high-risk situations, significant improvements were needed in training, policy and accountability.

Barbour's report said the risks involved in Tasers were higher when used by general duties officers because they received significantly less training and did not work in well-rehearsed team environments.

Barbour told ABC radio yesterday he remained concerned about the lack of standard operating procedures across the state. "I just think it's just because of ease and because it becomes more commonplace, police won't be as concerned to identify whether the prerequisites are in place for them to use [Tasers]," he said.

In WA, concern had risen after two men in close proximity to petrol were severely burned during the use of Tasers, and by the Tasering of a man who refused a strip search.

WA Premier Colin Barnett and State Attorney-General Christian Porter have slammed the incident - which resulted only in minor disciplinary action against officers - as "unacceptable" and a "major breach of procedure".

The Corruption and Crime Commission said it had identified a trend in which Tasers were being used for the wrong reasons, increasingly being fired to force obedience to orders rather than to prevent injury.

Commission Director of Corruption Prevention Roger Watson said police use of guns had doubled since Tasers were introduced in 2007, and injuries to police had increased by 22 per cent.

Tasers had been used in 74 per cent of cases when force was used.

The use of Tasers against people resisting arrest had doubled, and there had been disproportionate use of the weapon against Aborigines.

In Queensland, Antonio Galeano, 39, died after being shot 28 times near Townsville in June last year.

Another man also died last year in Alice Springs after being shot with a Taser, and in 2002 a NSW man died of a heart attack after being hit with the weapon.

Shocking statistics

* Four men have died after being shot by Tasers in Australia

* Two others were severely burned when Tasers were used near petrol

* A defenceless West Australian man was Tasered 13 times by police

* A WA report warns their use is rising, and often for the wrong reasons

* The NSW Ombudsman says police lack clear guidelines on Tasers

- NZ Herald

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